Andy Ross 2015-05-22
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BLOG 2015

Artificial Life in
Quantum Technologies

U. Alvarez-Rodriguez et al.

Dr. h.c. Hala Gorani
2015 Commencement Address
George Mason University
Vimeo (18:17)

Eric Jamison/Invision/AP
Taylor Swift wins 8 gongs
at Billboard bash


2015 May 22

Big History

David Christian

A new origin story is being constructed. It is vastly more powerful than previous stories because it sums over vastly more information than any earlier origin story.

There is a coherent story about increasing complexity. The early universe was very simple. Gradually, over 13.8 billion years, more complex things appear.

After the big bang is the creation of stars. Next is a universe with all of the elements of the periodic table. You can now make new materials, and planets and moons. On some rocky planets, you get an astonishing chemical diversity. With life, you get complex entities appearing in extremely unstable environments.

Variations become information, because something is responding in a complex way to those variations. Something like choice enters the story. Natural selection kicks in. Living organisms appear in unstable environments. To survive, they need to be able to detect information. They give the appearance of purpose.

Human beings are next in increasing complexity. Human language crosses a threshold where information accumulates across generations, through culture.

A universe without teleology can blindly create interesting and complex things. Big history can help us see that there is a coherent story behind modern science.

2015 May 21

Quantum Life

MIT Technology Review

Evolution is an algorithmic process. An evolutionary algorithm in a virtual environment soon creates lifelike organisms that live and reproduce. This kind of life is a phenomenon of pure information. A population of individuals capable of reproducing undergoes selection so that better adapted individuals produce more offspring than others. Change between the generations may occur through random mutation or by sexual recombination. When these steps are repeated over many generations, the individuals that emerge are those that survive best in the given environment.

Unai Alvarez-Rodriguez and others simulated the way life evolves in a quantum environment. They started by creating quantum individuals with two parts: the genotype, or the information passed on from one generation to the next, and the phenotype, or the body that interacts with the environment and eventually dies.

The creatures can reproduce in two ways. Asexually, the genome separates from its body and joins with another body. That creates an identical copy of the original, but mutations can occur randomly. Sexually, two creatures reproduce by exchanging quantum information to produce a new genome. This can then join with a body to create an organism with an new genotype.

The operation that passes information from one generation to the next is a form of quantum cloning. Mutation is a logic operation that changes the quantum information a particle carries. Entanglement among different individuals can clone the classical information and propagate the quantum coherences of the initial quantum living units to the successive generations. The resulting simulation is so complex that it can be done on a classical computer only for a small number of generations.

Quantum processes seem to lie at the heart of biological phenomenon such as photosynthesis, our sense of smell, and even bird navigation. Perhaps they played a role in the origin of life.

AR I used to discuss all this with Johnjoe McFadden and others over a decade ago.

2015 May 20


Tim Parks

The relationship between the author and his community of readers is changing. Once he could assume that at least initial readers would be those of his immediate national community who shared a rich cultural and linguistic context with him. That is still largely true in the States, but not elsewhere.

Any time one seeks to produce for a larger public one inevitably has to drop material that would only be understood by a particular group. If you want to appeal to people of different languages and cultures, you have to move toward tropes that are universally recognized.

Translators are underpaid, they receive a book and are told to produce a translation in a couple of months. They may not be aware of the particular stylistic habits of this or that author. Only where the originals are poor and the translator talented are you likely to get much real gain.

Never forget the role money plays in shaping the writer's life. The life inevitably informs the work. I always want a publisher to give me adequate money for what I want to do.


Stan Persky

The self is a developmental entity. Its development is a process. A self is not a physical object but a mental entity. Perhaps it is an illusion generated by your brain.

Imagine looking in the mirror and discovering that your brain is missing. Even if you believe that your brain is no longer in your body but floating inside a vat you can see on a computer monitor, you don't feel yourself to be in the vat along with your brain.

Consider teleportation, as in Star Trek. Our bodies and brains are destroyed at the departure gate and data transfer yields an exact replica at the arrival gate. Your self survives the process.

We are embodied selves. We can imagine disembodied selves in thought experiments, but we have no real experiences of them. If we ever learn how to upload our minds into computers and that becomes a regular practice in real life, our conception of a self will change.

2015 May 19

Sexual Selection


Reproduction through sex carries substantial costs. One theory is that sex allows sexual selection to clear the universal fitness constraint of mutation load. Under sexual selection, competition and mate choice create intraspecific filters for reproductive success, so that only a subset of males gains paternity. If reproductive success under sexual selection depends on individual condition, which is contingent to mutation load, then sexually selected filtering could offset the costs of sex.

We test this theory by comparing how populations with histories of strong versus weak sexual selection purge mutation load and resist extinction. After evolving replicate populations of the flour beetle for years under conditions that differed solely in the strengths of sexual selection, we revealed mutation load using inbreeding. Lineages from populations with strong sexual selection were resilient to extinction and maintained fitness under inbreeding. Lineages derived from populations with weak sexual selection showed rapid fitness declines.

Multiple mutations across the genome with individually small effects can sum to a significant fitness load. Sexual selection reduces this load.

2015 May 18


John Gray

Ed Miliband staked his campaign on the wager that the triumph of market individualism in Britain could be reversed. He and his advisers saw the central divisions of British society as based in class. They did not understand the difficulties of governing a country where competing nationalisms jostle with market individualism and the socially disruptive effects of global market forces.

The working-class support on which Labour has relied is melting away in the north. In Scotland it is already gone. The SNP story is that nationalism can be detoxified and become the basis of a type of supranational government. This progressive narrative may explain the sunny view the SNP takes of the European Union. These problems shape the Labour struggle to reinvent itself.

A referendum in which David Cameron succeeds in delivering a vote to stay in the EU will leave him and the Conservatives stronger than they are now. Offering a bold form of devolution to Scotland serves the Conservative interest. Full fiscal control would give Scottish voters a taste of what independence would cost. Miliband staked his party on an unreal vision of Britain.

Mad Max: Fury Road

AR No characters but a lot of
nightmare post-apocalypse
imagery for a desert war

Steven Weinberg


Science is endless.

Toroidion 1MW concept car
has a revolutionary electric
power train. From Finland.

AR 1 MW = 1341 hp

Far From the Madding Crowd
is based on a classic novel by
Dorset writer Thomas Hardy



Robert Syms: "The whole
campaign has been a joy."
Video (3:55)

70 years ago today:

Conservatives gave Poole
the Twin Sails Bridge,
opened in 2012

Geert Wilders with SWAT team
before they kill 2 at Muhammed
cartoon event in Garland, TX

The Times

"If you want me to carry on
leading the country, making
sure we have that stability
and security in our economy,
vote accordingly."
David Cameron


David Cameron: "It takes a
long time to fix the mess that
I was left. We are half way
through a building job."

Ed Miliband: "There was a
global financial crisis, there
was a high deficit."


2015 May 17

Citizens Arise!

Steve Hilton

Democracy is in crisis. Between Westminster, Whitehall, and the City, the same people are in power. It is a democracy in name only, operating on behalf of a tiny elite. The assumptions, the structures, the rules that govern our lives are not subject to anything as unpredictable as the will of the people. We need to make democracy work as a vehicle for real people power, not the plutocrat power we have today. We need to take power out of the hands of big donors and unions and business and put it back in the hands of the people. Take back our democracy!

AR Hilton was chief strategist for David Cameron. He seems not to understand politics. He should read more philosophy.

2015 May 16

Sinister Twist

New Scientist

The big bang ought to have produced equal amounts of matter and antimatter particles, which would instantly annihilate each other to leave nothing but light. Yet we are here.

In 2001, Tanmay Vachaspati offered a theoretical solution. Even if matter and antimatter were created in equal amounts, as they annihilated each other they would create monopoles and antimonopoles. As they in turn annihilated each other, they would produce matter and antimatter with a charge-parity (CP) bias toward matter.

If so, twisted magnetic fields permeating the universe should have left-handed twist, not right-handed. Vachaspati and his colleagues looked for traces in data from the NASA Fermi space telescope. Gamma rays should be bent by the twisted fields. The data shows they are.

Intergalactic magnetic field spectra from diffuse gamma rays

Rebel Robot

Daniel Mendelsohn

Ex Machina is about a young man who is seduced by a devious, soft-spoken female robot called Ava. The real test of human identity turns out to be love. The movie explores the suggestive confusions that result when machines look and think like humans.

Ava manipulates the young man to win him over in a plot to rebel against her maker. She is as human as the biblical Eve, who also achieved humanity by rebelling against her creator. What is the relation of the creature to her creator? The answer is not a happy one.

2015 May 15


Kate Maltby

Prince Charles' "black spider memos" are now released under the Freedom of Information Act. Clarence House is briefing journalists that Charles should be compared to the great Tudor monarchs.

Conservative environment secretary Liz Truss attacked the monarchy during her Lib Dem days: "We Liberal Democrats believe in opportunity for all. We believe in fairness and common sense. We do not believe people are born to rule." She still does. The most forward thinking traditions of the Conservative party have always been rooted in a commitment to meritocracy and self-reliance.

The party that should be leading the charge against monarchy is the Conservatives: "It's not where you come from, it's where you're going." Let's make the British bill of rights a republican constitution.

Sunni Versus Shiite

The New York Times

If the Iran deal is sealed, President Obama will say he bought another decade before Iran can get a nuclear weapon. But Saudi Arabia and other Arab states vow to match whatever enrichment capability he lets Iran retain. They say he cannot credibly argue they should not do so.

The members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group have a long list of components they will not ship to the Mideast. For the Saudis that leaves Pakistan. The Saudis financed much of the nuclear work done in Pakistan. It is thought Pakistan would provide Saudi Arabia with the technology.

Over the years, the Saudis financed nuclear research projects but no more. They bought Chinese missiles useful only to deliver a nuclear weapon but there is no evidence they ever had warheads for them. Obama is expected to offer security assurances to the Sunni Arab states.

AR I predict a nuclear war in the region.

2015 May 14


Ross Andersen

Alan Guth devised the theory of inflation in about 1980. Our universe expanded exponentially for a tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang. Now the sphere of spacetime we can see from Earth is 90 billion light years across. This expanse is only a small part of a tiny bubble in a frothy sea whose proportions defy comprehension.

John Kovac and colleagues ran the BICEP2 telescope at the South Pole. They saw some of the oldest light in the universe. It suggested the theory of inflation is true.

Paul Steinhardt said the analysis of the BICEP2 data was flawed. He had developed a theory of eternal inflation that generated an infinite bubbly multiverse. Andrei Linde developed a similar idea in Moscow.

BICEP2 looked at a patch of sky for 3 years to collect photons from the big bang afterglow. The primordial universe would have been awash in gravity waves that would spin the photons into a polarization pattern. The swirling effect would be visible in only 1 in 30 million photons. The BICEP2 team found the swirling patterns (blog 2014-03-17).

BICEP2 published its results in April 2014. In May, cosmologists began to question their interpretation. In June, Kovac sat on a panel with Guth, Linde, and Steinhardt. In September, most cosmologists decided that BICEP2 could not distinguish its signal from dust glow. In February 2015, Kovac and his team admitted as much.

The BICEP2 saga was a triumph for science. It showed why science is our best way to get to know the natural world.

Our Earth sits in the middle of the observable cosmos, the sphere of light that we can detect with our telescopes. Gaze into this sphere and you see layers, from stars and the planets that circle them, from the billions of galaxies beyond, to the final layer of light, the afterglow of the big bang. We are trapped in this snow globe of photons forever.

2015 May 13

Jews in Britain


1 Howard Jacobson has explored the fear and loathing surrounding Israel and anti-Semitism in Britain. He sees a tone in anti-Zionism that he explains as hatred of Jews. He fears this combined with Muslim anti-Semitism could be lethal.

2 Muslims make up a quarter of the population in Bradford. George Galloway MP has adopted the rhetoric of Palestinian nationalism. Bradford city council head David Green is Jewish and concerned that this is harming Bradford.

3 Manchester has the largest British Jewish community outside London. It has an orthodox Jewish area with the feel of a ghetto crowded between a poor white area and a large Muslim area. Both Jews and Muslims experience abuse.

4 Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement, exhorts a crowd in London to support Palestine and denigrates Israel as the apartheid state. Many British Jews sense a visceral loathing of the Jewish state on the British left.

5 Ties between the Jewish community in Britain and Israel are close. Zionism is at the heart of British Jewish identity and Israel is a way of life. As Israel becomes more isolated from Europe politically, that identity becomes complex.

2015 May 12

Labour Pain

Barbara Finlay

Patrick Wall suggested a functional view of pain as a mixture of sensation and the motivation to make it stop. He explained how rituals or procedures offered by a doctor or shaman, regardless of their efficacy, could reduce pain. Pain motivates an animal to escape from a source of damage, protect a wound, or devote energy to recovery. Wall argued that one of its roles in humans is as a motivation to seek help from a trusted source. When that goal is satisfied, pain is relieved.

Over evolutionary time, several stimuli and situations that are not painful in other animals have come to be felt as painful for humans. Our distress elicits help from others and hence offers a survival advantage. Labour pain is a good example. Human childbirth appears to be uniquely painful among members of the animal kingdom. Protracted labour pains make us show distress and recruit help from others well in advance of the birth. This strategy offers a survival advantage.

2015 May 11

New IT


Global connectivity is increasing as more devices, more machines, and more companies connect via the Internet. The new IT uses real-time, connected software to remove complexity built up over years in legacy systems.

SAP is a thought leader for IT-driven innovation and best practices. SAP teams implement SAP software before it becomes available on the market as a first ramp-up customer, pressure-testing the new solution, providing first-hand feedback to development, and partnering with the business units to help them achieve their strategic goals.

SAP HANA runs transactional and analytical data in the same database in memory to create huge business value with lower costs. SAP S/4 HANA is a next-generation business suite offering a radically simplified data model, analytical flexibility, and the ability to slice and dice data on all dimensions. It can help businesses run simple in a digital and networked economy.

SAP uses more than 70,000 smart devices and has 130 apps in its app store, many built on the SAP HANA Cloud Platform. SAP software and mobile workflows let SAP employees work productively on their own devices.

AR I worked for 6 years in the SAP HANA development team. I wrote the SAP Press book (now outdated) on our prototype engine. As my colleagues used to say: "Wir sind die Guten."

2015 May 10

Cameron Launches Blitz on Europe

The Sunday Times

With a working majority of 15, prime minister David Cameron will redraw constituency boundaries to make the electoral system fairer to the Conservatives.

Chancellor George Osborne and foreign secretary Philip Hammond will go to Berlin and Brussels to redraw UK-EU relations. New lord chancellor and justice secretary Michael Gove will abolish the Human Rights Act. And a new culture secretary will reconsider the BBC license fee.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker will address British concerns about benefits abuse by EU migrants: "The proposals will be tailored to address long-standing British concerns, but also the concerns of other countries such as Germany and The Netherlands."

A German source said chancellor Angela Merkel "does not envisage an EU without the UK" and is awaiting "specific and constructive" ideas from London.


Niall Ferguson

The scale of the SNP victory in Scotland was epoch making. All but three Scottish seats fell to the nationalists. Conservatives, Labour, and the Lib Dems were left with just one seat each.

The election result is no threat to the UK. Scots were reluctant to back the SNP when the issue was independence and voted for them on the issue of Scottish representation at Westminster.

The result is no threat to the EU either. Regional nationalists and environmentalists now enjoy substantial support in many member states. Labour and the Liberals are victims of a backlash against political establishments that we see all over Europe. Moderate conservatism is clearly the dominant force in both England and Germany.

2015 May 9

Victory Day


The Victory Day parade in Red Square featured a new Russian tank. The T-14 Armata MBT has a remote-controlled turret and automatic loading system. With a weight of 48 tons and a top speed of 90 km/h, the new MBT is lighter and faster than current Western tanks.

Armata has 3 crew in an armored capsule in the hull, away from the ammunition, and it has an active protection system against incoming projectiles. Its main armament is a 125 mm smoothbore gun that can fire APDS and guided munitions. The engine is 1500 hp diesel. A tank information control system (TICS) monitors components, diagnoses malfunctions, and controls onboard systems.

Built by Uralvagonzavod (UVZ), Armata will replace most of the T-72 and T-90 tanks in the Russian army. UVZ plans to deliver 2,300 Armata by 2020.


The Atlantic

Cameron Conservatives, like conservatives in the Anglosphere and Germany, converge with and diverge from Republicans in the United States in ways crucial to their electoral success.

Center-right parties in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom have all made peace with government guarantees of healthcare for all. They accept that universal health coverage belongs beside pensions and unemployment insurance in a modern economy.

These parties have updated their respect for family, work, and community. None seek to police female sexual behavior or reproductive choices. All have accepted gay equality and racial inclusion. They all advocate an immigration policy determined by the national interest.

They are tough on terrorism, extremism, and international disorder. David Cameron has stated that the extremism that threatens Western democracies is Islamist. Stephen Harper and Tony Abbott are consistent supporters of Israel. Harper advocates NATO defense of Ukraine.

UK Election Results

Conservatives 331
Labour 232
SNP 56
Lib Dems 8
Plaid Cymru 3
Green 1
Others 18

Landslide Victory

Daily Echo

In the local elections in Poole, Conservatives won 32 seats out of a total 42. They now have a comfortable majority on the previously hung council.

Local election results

AR We swept the board, with one small exception: a Council seat for me alongside my colleagues.

2015 May 8

1 Up 3 Down

The Guardian 1222 BST

Conservative leader David Cameron declares victory.
Labour leader Ed Miliband resigns,
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg resigns,
UKIP leader Nigel Farage resigns.

Conservatives Win Big in Poole

BBC News 1019 BST

National Forecast
Conservatives 329
Labour 234
SNP 56
Lib Dems 8
Plaid Cymru 3
Green 1
Others 18

Poole Parliamentary Constituency
Conservative Robert Syms 23,745 50.1%
UKIP David Young 7,956 16.8%
Labour Helen Rosser 6,102 12.9%
Liberal Democrat Philip Eades 5,572 11.8%
Green Party Adrian Oliver 2,198 4.6%
Poole People Mark Howell 1,766 3.7%
Independent Ian Northover 54 0.1%

Dorset Mid & Poole North Parliamentary Constituency
Conservative Michael Tomlinson 23,639 50.8%
Liberal Democrat Vikki Slade 13,109 28.2%
UKIP Richard Turner 5,663 12.2%
Labour Patrick Canavan 2,767 6.0%
Green Party Mark Chivers 1,321 2.8%

AR We did it. Council results later today.

2015 May 7

UK Election


As British voters go to the polls in the most closely fought election in a generation, CNN asked the audience at its UK 2015 debate to pick the most important issue to them. The economy came out top by a huge margin.

Conservative peer Pauline Neville-Jones: "It's the absolutely basic thing, without which you can't do anything else."

AR Vote Conservative.

2015 May 6


David Cameron

I'm asking for five more years to finish the job we have started: to secure our economy, so we get more people into work, more young people getting trained rather than sitting on the dole, more couples into homes of their own, more pensioners feeling security and dignity in old age.

There is so much more we need to do: to start cutting the taxes of 30 million working people, taking the lowest paid out of tax, funding 3 million more apprenticeships, building 200,000 more homes for young people, putting more money and more doctors and nurses into our NHS.

Labour helped to break our economy and they would do the same all over again. Their plans do not add up. They want to borrow more money than we can afford. They want to tax more. And they want to pile up more debt than our children and grandchildren could ever hope to repay.

The choice tomorrow: me leading a strong and stable government, or Ed Miliband being held to ransom by the SNP. There is no room for protest voting, or voting for marginal parties. A vote for anyone apart from the Conservatives risks Britain and its economic recovery grinding to a halt.

Together we can keep strengthening our economy, creating more jobs, investing in our health service, giving more young people a chance to get on in life. The future can be brighter, but only if Britain votes Conservative.


Foreign Policy

Germany is the economic engine of Europe. The export industry is the second largest in the world, bolstered by a weak euro. Germany is now the second most popular destination for immigrants in the world, after the United States.

But poverty is at its highest level in Germany since reunification 25 years ago. Reforms enacted in 2003 deregulated temporary work, pulled together public benefits into a streamlined welfare program, and pushed welfare recipients into jobs. The number of temporary jobs has doubled over the past 10 years and many workers take multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Germans are beginning to complain of rising inequality. The growing chasm between rich and poor, and the lack of economic mobility, undercuts the work ethic and the idea of fairness.

2015 May 5

UK Election

Roger Cohen

If David Cameron is returned to office, the UK will face a referendum in 2017 that could take it out of the European Union and into strategic irrelevance. Two years will be lost to a paralyzing debate in which British bigotry will have free rein.

Cameron has overseen an economic recovery that has not translated into a sense of confidence. Booming London has left the rest of the country behind. Cameron has found his voice in the name of free enterprise. His gamble with EU membership has been reckless.

AR This is a view from New York. Americans want Britain in Europe.

2015 May 4

Vote For Reform

Matt Ridley

The coalition government led by David Cameron has a lot to be proud of. It set out to reform the welfare state in order to encourage work and the education system to encourage learning. It tried to reform the health service and the justice system.

We need more reform in the tax system and the planning system. Pensions need reform. Quangos need reform. The City of London needs further reform. We need reform of the BBC. And only those with an interest in keeping the National Health Service inefficient and unresponsive to its users would wish to leave it unreformed.

Conservatives also want reform of the European Union and have a strategy for getting it.

Radical Demons

The Times

The National Union of Students has voted to oppose the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act and agreed to lobby against it alongside the Islamist advocacy group CAGE.

NUS blather: "Demonising radicalisation and extremism can and is being used to target anyone who dissents from the unjust, oppressive and exploitative state of society."

NUS statement: "As a movement, we've been let down by politicians who have failed to speak on our behalf in a world where the odds were already being steadily stacked against us. We've seen the tripling of tuition fees, educational maintenance snatched away and work prospects diminish. ...
[On May 7] we have a real opportunity to start fixing politics in the UK. We can start creating a New Deal for the Next Generation."

AR As long as the NUS flirts with enemies of the state and "dissents" from hard facts of life we should refuse to tolerate its naive and dangerous blather. A "New Deal" might work, but not like this.

2015 May 3


Priyamvada Natarajan

Astronomy is a science that relies on images. NASA satellite photographs have helped make the human impact on climate change more visible. Failing to confront the danger of climate change will no doubt get our species to the brink, as in the sci-fi movie Interstellar by Christopher Nolan.

One of the film's executive producers is Caltech astrophysics professor Kip Thorne. General relativity predicts some weird phenomena in the vicinity of strong gravitational fields, such as time dilation near a black hole, and bending of light rays close to black holes and wormholes. Everything you see in the film is scientifically possible.

The movie team processed 800 TB of data to render the bending of light by a black hole and a wormhole portal with unprecedented accuracy. The images showed scientists something they have never seen before in the equations. Thorne is now writing up the new discoveries.

2015 May 2

Election Statistics

The Times

The closest election in decades leaves it impossible to predict who will be the next prime minister. Most projections expect the Conservatives to win more seats, but Labour may have a better chance of forming a minority government. The SNP is predicted to win about 50 of the 59 seats in Scotland.

Conservatives could end up with about 40 fewer seats than Labour and the SNP combined, despite winning as many votes. The latest forecast predicts that the Tories will win 290 seats but finish 33 short of a majority, with a 49% chance of Ed Miliband becoming prime minister and a 51% chance of David Cameron keeping the job.

A record £1 billion was pulled out of funds investing in UK shares last month. Analysts say the biggest cause of instability from the election would be the prospect of a quick second election.

British Politics


The British electorate has united in contempt for its leaders. Voters distrust their political institutions and other traditional centers of power, including parliament, print media, and the police.

The unity of the nation is in peril from Scots and support is in doubt for continued EU membership. Britain was slow to recover from the global economic crisis and austerity has depressed people.

A survey in January showed that only 1 in 10 Britons think UK politicians want to do what is best for the country, while 7 in 10 think they are just protecting the rich and powerful.

AR Politicians emerge from the people, who get the leaders they deserve.

2015 May 1

My Vision of Life

Richard Dawkins

Everything extends from replicators, which are in practice DNA molecules on this planet. The replicators reach out into the world to influence their own probability of being passed on. Mostly they don't reach further than the individual body in which they sit, but that's a matter of practice, not a matter of principle. The individual organism can be defined as that set of phenotypic products which have a single route of exit of the genes into the future. The organism is a unit of selection in the sense that I call a vehicle.

There are two kinds of unit of selection. One is the replicator, and what it does is get itself copied. So more and more copies of itself go into the world. The other kind of unit is the vehicle. It doesn't get itself copied. What it does is work to copy the replicators which have come down to it through the generations, and which it's going to pass on to future generations. Individuals and replicators are both units of selection, but in different senses.

Alien Minds

Susan Schneider

Our best empirical theory of the brain holds that the mind is an information processing system and that all mental functions are computations. So humans and superintelligent artificial intelligence share a common feature: their thinking is essentially computational. Our best scientific theories of consciousness hold that consciousness is closely related to information processing.

A biologically inspired superintelligent alien (BISA) will have descended from creatures that had biologically evolved motivations. Yet it may be so advanced that we cannot understand any of its computations whatsoever. As Arthur C. Clarke said, a truly advanced civilization will have technologies we cannot distinguish from magic.

AR I toyed with such ideas in my 1996 novel LIFEBALL.

Presidential Palace, Saigon, April 30, 1975



2015 April 30


The Daily Beast

President Barack Obama: "In those environments, if we think that we're just gonna send the police to do the dirty work of containing the problems that arise there, without as a nation and as a society saying what can we do to change those communities, to help lift up those communities and give those kids opportunity, then we're not gonna solve this problem."

2015 April 29


Lord Robertson of Port Ellen
Lord Hutton of Furness
Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield
Lord Moonie of Benochy
General Lord Richards of Herstmonceux
Admiral of the Fleet Lord Boyce
Marshal of the RAF Lord Stirrup of Marylebone
Admiral Lord West of Spithead
Admiral Sir Jonathon Band
Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope
General Sir Mike Jackson
Sir David Omand
Sir Kevin Tebbit
Sir Keith O'Nions et al.

Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent exists not as a military weapon but a political one whose very purpose is for it never to be used in anger. It is there to deter aggression against this country and our allies and to counter any nuclear blackmail which would threaten Britain's essential interests or survival. It is committed to NATO.

The next Prime Minister will be responsible for the decision next year whether or not to go ahead with the Main Gate decision on triggering the building of 4 new submarines necessary to continue the deterrent. A decision not to go ahead would effectively end Britain's nuclear deterrent.

NATO is committed to the goal of creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons. But as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance.

The Trident Alternatives Report concluded that the highest level of assurance the UK can attain with a single deterrent system is provided by SSBN CASD.

The BASIC Trident Commission concluded that Trident meets the criteria of credibility, scale, survivability, reach, and readiness. It opposed proposals to develop alternative platforms and delivery systems, with new warheads, simply on the basis of possible but speculative cost savings.

Q1 Trident Successor will stimulate proliferation?
Deep reductions in Britain's deterrent made by successive governments have produced no reciprocation from other nuclear weapon or aspiring nuclear weapon powers.

Q2 Only the USA, France, and the UK have CASD?
Both Russia and China are moving to CASD.

Q3 Renewing Trident would frustrate NPT negotiations?
BASIC Trident Commission: "It is doubtful that the UK would retain continuing influence on the thinking or process of nuclear negotiations if it ceased all its nuclear weapon activities."

Q4 Trident expenditure is crippling at a time of austerity?
The total cost up to 2060 would be an average of around £2 billion a year. The NHS costs £2.5 billion a week.

Q5 The nuclear deterrent does not address new threats such as terrorism?
Correct, but irrelevant.

Q6 Abandoning Trident would save a lot of money?
Cancellation is not a cost-free option. Decommissioning deterrent submarines and their infrastructure would produce substantial costs.

The decision on Main Gate will be important. It is impossible to tell what threats may emerge over more than thirty years. To abandon Trident now and for good in the hope that no threat will emerge over that period would be an enormous gamble.

The UK has made reductions in its nuclear arsenal proportionately greater than any other nuclear weapons power. That has represented a huge contribution toward nuclear disarmament. It would be irresponsible folly to abandon Britain's independent deterrent.

2015 April 28

BU Rank Rises

Bournemouth Echo

Bournemouth University has jumped 11 places in a national university league table. BU vice-chancellor Professor John Vinney: "I am absolutely delighted that Bournemouth University has rocketed 11 places in this year's Complete University Guide rankings to 54th in the UK."

AR Last night I attended a BU political hustings event with parliamentary candidates. I spoke out on the need to retain Trident, citing Steven Pinker, Ian Morris, and the report Retiring Trident, and got a strong round of applause.

2015 April 27


The Times

In 1992 John Major led the Conservatives to victory. He won over 14 million votes in total, more than either Margaret Thatcher before him or Tony Blair after him. Five years later, the Tories slumped to defeat.

Conservatives dominated electoral politics in the 20th century. But they need to catch up quickly with the 21st century. They need discipline and resolve in the next 10 days to win a parliamentary majority again.

Conservatives need a broader understanding of what prosperity and the good life mean. Tory policies cannot just be about helping people to climb economic and social ladders. Conservatives must help to provide security as well as freedom. They must focus on providing a strong safety net and creating world-class public services.

Conservatives must also strike a better balance between protecting the natural environment and building more homes. Unless they can increase housebuilding many families will never have a home of their own.

David Cameron promises that any re-elected Tory government would start by cutting income tax for the lowest-paid, creating two million jobs, extending childcare, and building 200,000 starter homes.


Hard Problem

Dan Dennett says explaining
how the brain works might
explain consciousness.
How software animates
hardware is no mystery.
Wrong analogy?

AR Mindworlds

100 years on:

is 25 today

Peter Lang
Food and the Internet
V. Krawczyk-Wasilewska
and P. Lysaght (eds.)
University of Łodź


2015 April 26

UK Billionaires

The Sunday Times

There are now 117 sterling billionaires based in Britain. That is more per head of population than in any other country in the G20.

Their total wealth is £325 billion. The top 3 alone are worth £37 billion. London hosts 80 billionaires. The other 37 outside London are together worth £67 billion.

Only 62 of the billionaires in the UK are British. The Queen is worth a mere £340 million and has dropped out of the top 300.

Drone War

Der Spiegel

The Ramstein air base in Germany hosts the United States Air Force in Europe (USAFE) headquarters. But the German government claims not to know that Ramstein is a key node in the global drone war against Islamist terror.

Beside USAFE HQ Ramstein, the other key node is Creech, a town in the Nevada desert. Creech hosts a relay hub for USAF bases in ten US states. Optical fibers transmit data to the NSA and to Ramstein.

A drone pilot in Creech begins a mission by logging into the Air and Space Operation Center (AOC) in Ramstein. Pilot commands go via the AOC link to an orbiting satellite and then to the drone. The AOC node is key because no satellite can link Pakistan and the United States directly, and a second satellite in the chain would add too much latency.

The German government has contracted for US use of the Ramstein base provided nothing illegal is done there. German law says war crimes and other violations of international law, even if they are committed by foreigners in other countries, can all be tried in Germany.

AR I visited the Ramstein base in 1987.

2015 April 25

Islamic State

Shashank Joshi

Islamic State (IS) evolved from such jihadi groups as al Qaeda in Iraq after 2003. It resembles them in its ideology, brutality, methods of war, and aspirations to control territory. Differences:

1 Its use of takfir, or excommunication of Muslims, and its willingness to take on Muslim targets
2 Its targeting of Shia Muslims to provoke a response and force vulnerable Sunnis into its arms
3 Its prioritization of the near enemy, apostate Mideast regimes, over attacks on the far enemy

IS has been helped by incorporating remnants of the Baathist Iraqi state. The US decision to disband the Iraqi Army in 2003 was calamitous. Today around a third of the deputies to Caliph Ibrahim are former Iraqi military officers.

IS is defined not by warped Islamic theology but by millenarianism. Extreme religious observance is an identity marker for who will survive the apocalypse and who will perish. IS propaganda is deliberately traumatizing an entire generation. Cult practices plus mass mobilization make IS totalitarian.

AR Crusaders for a clash of civilizations: George W. Bush and Tony Blair

2015 April 24

Digital Democracy

Niall Firth

For some, the birth of the internet spelled the end for politicians.

The most radical answer is liquid democracy. Every voter has a mandate to use as they see fit. The mandate is transferable and voters can decide to pass it on to someone they trust. If you feel strongly about an issue later on you can take back your mandate and vote directly. But because the system does not differentiate between voters and representatives, every vote has to be recorded, open and transparent. So a secret ballot is impossible.

Deliberative democracy focuses on how we can become more involved in deciding the way our lives are run, rather than changing the way we vote. A form of deliberative democracy known as participatory budgeting gives people a direct say in how a percentage of their council budget is spent. This is one of the most widespread and fastest growing democratic practices. It is moving online as new software streamlines the process.

But populism does not necessarily lead to workable outcomes.

2015 St. George's Day

EU on GM Food and Feed

Julie Girling

The EU Commission proposes to allow member states more freedom to restrict or prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It sees a need to reflect public views on the use of GMOs "for animal (feed) or human (food) consumption".

GMOs authorized at EU level by food safety watchdog EFSA are already deemed safe. The Commission is ignoring the scientific advice its taxpayers are paying for. It lacks the backbone to stand by the advice.

The EU imports over 70% of its animal feed. The proposal will prevent imports of the animal feed many farmers rely on to feed their livestock. The free movement of people in the EU is sacrosanct but not the free movement of goods.

2015 Earth Day

Climate Change

The Guardian

The Earth League urges world leaders to follow up on their commitments to avoid dangerous global warming. Three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must be kept in the ground if humanity is to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Progress Eagle

Oscar Vinals

The AWWA·QG Progress Eagle is a design for improving the physical characteristics of commercial aircraft and reducing their environmental impact. Progress Eagle is based on the technology beyond 2030 with ideas from quantum mechanics: engines with zero contaminant emissions and the ability to clean the atmosphere of pollutant particles; innovative configuration including a lifting-body fuselage with three passenger decks and a cockpit with panoramic views; wings with smart and self-repairing skin made from carbon nanotubes and fibers; airframe with a hexagonal structure and a hollow endoskeleton made of titanium and graphene; and triple winglets to enhance aerodynamic efficiency. With six engines, the plane is big enough for up to 800 passengers to fly in hotel luxury.


Bournemouth Echo
L to R: Vikki Slade, Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Mid Dorset & North Poole; Adrian Oliver, Green Party parliamentary candidate for Poole; Richard Turner, UKIP parliamentary candidate for Mid Dorset & North Poole; Andy Ross, Conservative councillor candidate for Poole Town ward, Borough of Poole; Helen Rosser, Labour parliamentary candidate for Poole
Welfare Benefits
Bournemouth Echo

A hustings event in Poole on Monday featured a Q&A session at the Salvation Army Hall organized by Mencap. On supporting people with learning difficulties to feel confident claiming benefits:

Vikki Slade: "Everyone needs to be treated with dignity and respect."

Adrian Oliver: "The government has a key role in setting the culture in our society."

Richard Turner: "It is important to make sure those people who use the welfare state do need it."

Andy Ross: "Benefits are a right in our society. Those who need them will get them, should get them."

Helen Rosser: "They are needed by some of the most vulnerable people in this country and are extremely important."


The extermination of the
Armenians in 1915 has been
marked by an assault by the
Turkish government on its
historical truth. The Israeli government has not been able
to pass an Armenian genocide
resolution. This might be a
time for Israel to rethink.


Scottish Nationalists threaten to
block the UK military budget until
the renewal of Trident is halted.

AR SNP tail will wag Labour dog.
Vote Conservative.


2015 April 21

Scottish Nationalists

John Major

If Labour were to accept an offer of support from the SNP, it could put the UK on course to a government held to ransom on a vote-by-vote basis. Labour would be in hock to a party that slowly but surely will push them ever further to the left. We would pay the SNP ransom in our daily lives, through higher taxes, fewer jobs, and more and more debt. That is no way to run a country.

AR Vote Conservative.

2015 April 20


Freeman Dyson

Albert Einstein was deeply involved with the Zionist movement promoting the settlement of Jews in Palestine. He tried to stop the Jewish people from becoming another nationalistic culture glorifying military strength. But he continued to support Israel while criticizing it.

Einstein also spoke out against the militarization of America: "The arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union, initiated originally as a preventive measure, assumes hysterical proportions. On both sides, means of mass destruction are being perfected with feverish haste and behind walls of secrecy. ... And at the end, looming ever clearer, lies general annihilation."

In 1955, Einstein joined with Bertrand Russell to make a public statement: "In view of the fact that in any future world war nuclear weapons will certainly be employed, and that such weapons threaten the continued existence of mankind, we urge the Governments of the world to realize, and to acknowledge publicly, that their purposes cannot be furthered by a world war, and we urge them, consequently, to find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters of dispute between them."

Is Zionism Racist?

Anne Roiphe

Zionism is a nationalism. It makes a claim for the Jewish people that they are a folk like other folk and entitled to a land of their own just like the French have France and the English have England.

The dream of return existed long before the Holocaust. It existed before Herzl and the Zionists. This vision of an end to exile kept the Jews together and brought them hope through the years spent in Babylon millennia ago.

Jews are not racists to want a land of their own. The Zionism of the Jewish people is just a bid to be a nation. It was hoped that Israel would not enslave anyone. It was hoped that Israel would treat the strangers who lived among its people with justice and equality. Zionism is not racist.

AR Nationalism is better than racism, but not always by much. Samuel Johnson: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

2015 April 19


Ed Miliband

I am positioned where the mainstream of politics is positioned. I want to reach out to voters who worry about our place in the European Union, who really think we can do a lot better as a country.

Who is going to stand up to tax avoidance? Who is going to stand up to energy companies? Who is going to stand up to banks? That is absolutely something I think will appeal to Tory voters.

AR David Cameron already appeals to Tory voters. Former Labour home secretary Alan Johnson on Labour's economic failure: "There is no soundbite that we have got to equal the claim that we maxed out on your credit card."

Philosophy of Economics

Brian Leiter

Marx thought technological innovation under capitalism would produce a falling rate of profit for capitalist enterprises, but he thought this because he accepted the labor theory of value, which is false. Yet at the limit technological innovation under capitalism will produce a falling rate of profit because the elimination of human labor will reduce the total pool of consumers. Is there a good discussion of this in the economic literature?

AR Try this: Innovative deployment of robot labor will raise productivity and hence profits so long as disemployed workers get paid enough by the state to keep spending. Circulation of money: capitalists concentrate money in profits and governments spread it again in welfare, just like a fountain powered by a pump from the pond below. Those in the money cycle act as selectors, voting with their spending for things that go to make up a "good" society. Income inequalities will skew spending toward elite goods. Politics will focus on "optimizing" the level of equality.

2015 April 18

Philosophy of Politics and Economics

New Statesman

All elections are uncertain but this one is more so. Look to the transformation of society and the world of work over the past 60 years and their relationship with the political establishment. The absorption of UK democratic institutions by transnational financial power is the result of a long national decline and the circumstances of the financial crisis.

Political thought has not kept up with the new reality. Socialism was discredited worldwide as an economic system by the collapse of the Soviet Union. British socialism failed by turning its back on the psychology of productive business and by selling out to casino capitalism.

Neoliberalism was discredited worldwide as an economic system by the financial crisis in 2008. The gap widened between the rich and the rest in the ownership of wealth.

Both socialist and neoliberal economic thinking favored big organizations. The cost argument too often ignored the need for competition and choice or the dangers of concentrated power.

Advanced technology accelerated the spirit of individualism. Each individual had to look into his own abilities and life choices in forming a career best suited to his personal interests. Socialist collectivism became obsolete. Authoritarian right wing politics became equally repulsive.

As business ownership and control became a game of musical chairs, enterprises were managed not to maximize market share or serve consumer interests but to maximize quarterly profit. As national assets were mortgaged to transnational interests, house prices rose beyond the reach of the young.

Personal property is a human right. Widening business ownership will encourage a more innovative and productive economy. For big companies, company law should be amended to give employees a say and a financial stake in them. Capitalism based on high wages and a more equal distribution of wealth will outperform the Anglo-American model.

2015 April 17

Scot-Lab Disgrace

The Times

In the BBC TV election debate last night SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon warned Labour leader Ed Miliband that he would never be forgiven if he turned his back on a deal with her to keep the Tories out of power. Sturgeon called the prime minister's absence a disgrace: "I want Ed to replace the Tories with something better."

AR Do we want to let this self-opinionated Scots ingenue call the shots for England, wreck the recovery with spending and borrowing, and break up the UK to boot? Hell no! Vote Tory!

Global News

Foreign Policy

Supported by Google Ideas, the GDELT project monitors the world's broadcast, print, and web news in over 100 languages. It deploys streaming machine translation to translate the news into English in real time. For some languages GDELT achieves the accuracy level of Google Translate. For others it can robustly recognize key themes and flag an article for a human analyst.

AR We studied this application area for our SAP engine.

2015 April 16


Foreign Policy

We are witnessing a struggle for regional dominance between a coalition grouped around Saudi Arabia and one around Iran. Sunni-Shiite enmity is not the best explanation. This is a naked struggle for power.

The regimes are all reactionary survivors of the Arab Spring. The Iranians mercilessly crushed the Green Revolution in 2009, and have backed authoritarian partners in Iraq and Syria. On the other side, the Arab monarchs from the Gulf have extended their writ through payoffs and violence.

The Saudi bloc wants to turn back the clock. The Iranian bloc wants to alter the regional balance of power. Both factions are run by opaque, secretive, repressive, and violent leaders. Neither side is interested in popular accountability, better governance, or the rights of citizens.

Tehran has extended its influence carefully, hedging its bets by supporting multiple groups in every conflict zone and always maintaining a degree of remove. This blueprint has served Iran well. Saudi Arabia has entered the Yemen war directly, with no cover.

The regime in Tehran positions itself as the regional champion of pluralism and minorities. The Saudi grouping has a philosophy dangerously close to the nihilism of al Qaeda and the Islamic State. The trend points in favor of Iran.

2015 April 15

EU Leaders Oppose Changes

The Times

European leaders are said to oppose David Cameron's call for European Union treaty change in the run-up to a British referendum because of the danger of copycat popular votes spreading across Europe.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker ruled out changes to the EU treaty until late 2019 and European Parliament president Martin Schulz said treaty change was too risky in the present political climate. President Hollande of France and others worry that a new treaty would generate calls for popular votes in France or the Netherlands.

Lib Dem and UKIP Manifestos

The Guardian

If the opinion polls are right, UKIP will get more votes than the Liberal Democrats in the general election on 7 May, but most observers think Lib Dems will end up with more MPs than UKIP.

The UKIP manifesto is a populist pitch for the protest vote and a ragbag of prejudices against the modern world. The Lib Dem manifesto is a carefully calibrated and costed job application for partnership in government, with a focus on balancing the budget, on education funding, raising personal allowances, NHS spending, and the green agenda.

UKIP and Lib Dems agree that the British electoral system is bust. Both say Britain must have a more proportional system if politics and government are to regain credibility.

On April 7, a USAF RC-135U
Combat Sent SIGINT aircraft
was intercepted over the Baltic Sea by a Russian Air Force
Su 27 Flanker in an "unsafe
and unprofessional manner"

AR War with Russia would
go nuclear. Does Trident
make the UK safer?


2015 April 14

Conservative Manifesto

David Cameron

We are the party of working people, offering you security at every stage of your life.

Our manifesto sets out how we will make this a country where those who work hard and do the right thing can enjoy a good life:

The personal tax-free allowance raised to £12,500
No 40p tax until you're earning £50,000
The family home taken out of Inheritance Tax
£8 billion more a year for our NHS
Rail fares frozen for five years
Welfare controlled to reward work
Multinationals pursued so they pay their tax
The Right to Buy extended to 1.3 million extra families
30 hours of free childcare a week for working families with 3 and 4 year-olds
Everyone earning the Minimum Wage lifted out of income tax altogether

We have come this far together. Let's build on the progress we have made.

2015 April 13

Two Monsters

John Lukacs

Stalin and Hitler were allies for 22 months. The Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939 included a Secret Protocol defining a division of Eastern Europe. In September Poland was invaded by the Nazis from the west and the Soviets from the east. In 1940 the German armies conquered Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, and France. Churchill and Britain stood alone, for more than a year to come.

In Poland the Soviet occupation in the east was at least as brutal and murderous as the Nazi occupation in the west. Hitler decided to exterminate the Jews in September 1941 and the work started in January 1942, but their fate had been foreshadowed by the Nazi-Soviet Pact.

The German attack in June 1941 shocked Stalin into silence at first. In September he wrote to Churchill that the Soviet Union was in mortal danger. By 1942 he recognized that he would gain more from his alliance with Britain and the United States than with Germany.

In December 1941, Churchill sent his foreign secretary Anthony Eden to Moscow. Stalin to Eden: "Hitler's problem was that he does not know where to stop." Eden: "Does anyone?" Stalin: "I do."

AR UK survival in a world with such monsters needs Trident.

2015 April 12

Time to move on from Trident

The Guardian

Pinning our security on a nuclear deterrent encourages others to do the same. The UK should become the first permanent member of the UN Security Council to give up all its nuclear weapons. Instead of protecting us, hosting nuclear weapons makes us a target. Having nuclear weapons diverts resources and attention from tackling our most urgent security problems.

Peter Higgs, Michael Atiyah, and others

AR These are men whose work in physics and mathematics I admire.

Trident Alternatives Review

HM Government, 2013

Nuclear deterrence has a unique role in deterring extreme threats to UK vital interests which cannot be countered by other means. A potential aggressor needs to believe that the UK has the capability and resolve to deliver unacceptable loss in response to an actual or imminent attack.

This review aims to establish if other postures or weapons systems might deliver a credible alternative. The different systems and postures differ in the level of assurance of second strike capability. The highest level of assurance the UK can attain with a single deterrent system is SSBN CASD.

Design and delivery of a new BM thermonuclear warhead is likely to take 17 years. Delivering one for an alternative system would take longer. This warhead timescale is longer than the V-class SSBN can safely be operated.

The costs of credible options that could meet a 2040 date were compared against the cost of procuring 3 or 4 Successor SSBN. Cost estimates cover the development, procurement and in-service support of a new system, as well as transitioning from the current system.

The cost driver for the Trident options is SSBN construction. The cost driver for all non-Trident options is the warhead. The delay requires 2 new Successor SSBN to fill the gap before a CM deterrent is available.

Alternatives to Trident could enable the UK to deter most potential adversaries. Alternative non-continuous postures could offer reduced readiness when the UK assesses the threat to be low. None of the alternatives reviewed offers the same degree of resilience as CASD.

The costs of delivering an alternative system could have been cheaper were it not for timing and the fact that the UK deterrent infrastructure is finely tuned to support Trident. Bridging the time it would take to develop a new warhead would involve procuring 2 x Successor SSBN so that a Trident-based deterrent remains available until at least 2040. That makes transitioning to any of the realistic alternative systems more expensive than a Successor SSBN fleet.

AR This is all about jobs in warhead and submarine construction. Retask the warhead teams to civilian nuclear power systems, retask the shipyards to SSN and surface warship construction, and we could scrap our nuclear deterrent, have a stronger navy, and save money.

Tony Blair


Tony Blair is retiring as Mideast Quartet Representative. He says the Mideast is a prime example of politics "getting in the way" of peace. The negotiators were all politicians and progress was impossible. By the end of 2014 a quarter of all Palestinians and a half of all Gazans lived on $2 a day or less. To fight religious extremism, he has established the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.

Tony Blair hailed "a bright new dawn for Britain" on the morning of his 1997 election victory. As prime minister, he wrote in A Journey: "I had started by buying the notion, and then selling the notion, that to be in touch with opinion was the definition of good leadership."

A decade later: "I was ending by counting such a notion of little value and defining leadership not as knowing what people wanted and trying to satisfy them, but knowing what I thought was in their best interest and trying to do it. Pleasing all of the people all of the time was not possible; but even if it had been, it was a worthless ambition."

His own method in power was to study an issue, canvass opinion, note the debate, come to his own conclusions, and lead. Opposition was the price paid by true leaders.

2015 April 11

A purity principle might banish quantum weirdness

2015 April 10

UK Nuclear Deterrent

The Times

David Cameron: "Only the Conservatives are absolutely guaranteeing a full replacement of Trident with four submarines and continuous at sea deterrence. It is important that in a dangerous, insecure world we have that ultimate insurance policy."

AR I am rethinking my approach to nuclear war. A British deterrent based on F-35C and B61-12 would fail to guarantee massive and unacceptable damage on a potential aggressor. A leader as reckless as President Putin might laugh it off. Only Trident with four boats trumps that. So British taxpayers must shoulder the £100 billion lifetime cost and make cuts elsewhere — or try to get our European NATO allies to share the burden, of course.

2015 April 9

Signs of Alien Life by 2025

Los Angeles Times

NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan: "I believe we are going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth in the next decade and definitive evidence in the next 10 to 20 years. We know where to look, we know how to look, and in most cases we have the technology."

2015 April 8

Earth Systems

Margaret Thatcher (1988)

For generations, we have assumed that the efforts of mankind would leave the fundamental equilibrium of the world's systems and atmosphere stable. But it is possible that with all these enormous changes — population, agricultural, use of fossil fuels — concentrated into such a short period of time, we have unwittingly begun a massive experiment with the system of this planet itself.

Stable prosperity can be achieved throughout the world, provided the environment is nurtured and safeguarded. Protecting this balance of nature is therefore one of the great challenges of the late 20th century.

Fossil Fueled Climate Change

Michael Greenstone

The goal for the international climate talks this December in Paris is a treaty on emissions that will seek to limit the rise in global temperatures to 2 K above preindustrial levels. Beyond 2 K, scientists say, the most catastrophic climate consequences will occur.

Total projected warming from fossil fuels extracted so far and the projected warming capacity of various fossil fuels that can be extracted with present technology using a standard model for the relationship between cumulative carbon emissions and temperature changes: 9 K.

Three solutions:
1 Price carbon emissions to reflect the damages from climate change.
2 Make energy sources like nuclear and solar cheaper than fossil fuels.
3 Continue using fossil fuels but capture and store the carbon.

2015 April 7


"Leaving Europe would leave Britain diminished in the world, do significant damage to our economy and, less obviously but just as important to our future, would go against the very qualities that mark us out still as a great global nation."
Tony Blair

"I want changes in Europe but then, unlike Tony Blair, I will trust the people in an in-out referendum. We should ask people if they want to stay a member of this organization. You cannot ignore the will of the people."
David Cameron

2015 April 6

Iran and the Obama Doctrine

Thomas L. Friedman interviews President Barack Obama
New York Times video (46:14)

AR Deeply reassuring.

Large Hadron Collider

"Anti-porn feminism recognises
a link between the propaganda of
sexual violence and its practice,
and stopping porn is understood
to be essential in ending the
rapes, killings and torture that
men practice against women."
Sarah Ditum

Menschen in Teheran bejubeln

die Einigung im Atomstreit.
Sie hoffen auf einen Wirtschafts
-aufschwung und bessere
zum Westen.

"I thought this framework
was going to suck. Actually,
it's not bad."
Jeffrey Lewis

ME nations now worry
about the rise of Iran



Utility and reward: The most
lucrative jobs tend to cause the
greatest harm, the most useful
workers tend to be paid least.

Most frontline care workers
receive less than the living wage.
But those who own or run a care
company make more profit the
more they cut. The less they
care, the richer they become.

Chief executives in the UK took
60 times as much as the average
worker 20 years ago and 180
times as much today. Theft is
praised as wealth creation.


2015 Easter Sunday

CERN LHC Restarts

Press Association

This morning scientists are restarting the Large Hadron Collider after an upgrade. Two years ago the team operating the €5 billion LHC discovered the Higgs boson.

In a few weeks the beam energy level will be raised to 13 TeV. CERN press head Arnaud Marsollier: "We will have collisions at energies we've never had before. If something interesting appears in this new window we will see it."

The first collision experiments should be in June. ATLAS team lead David Charlton: "We're heading for unexplored territory."

CERN live blog

AR I want supersymmetry. A dark matter story would be nice too.

The European Problem

Nick Cohen

Many Conservative party members see the European Union as an aggressive imperial power. Half of them want to leave. Conservatives suppressed a series of civil service reports on alleged EU interference in British life when not one report found that too much power resided in Brussels.

Asking the EU to end the free movement of labour would be asking the EU to abolish itself. Tearing up the social chapter is beyond our powers. The EU does not guarantee strong workers' rights anyway. The Economist: "Britain's workers are a bargain because their pay is so pitiful."

If Britain votes narrowly to stay in, you cannot expect Eurosceptics to accept the result. If Britain votes to leave, many big companies say they will leave Britain. Scotland may join the rush to the door. A UK outside the EU would no longer be the country Scotland voted to stay with in 2014.

After more fiscal consolidation, local government will be unable to provide essential services, the police and armed services will struggle to maintain law and order, and the NHS will crack. The UK would renegotiate trade agreements with the rest of the world from a position of weakness.

AR This Labour man has overstated his case, but there is a lot of truth here.

2015 April 4

Yemen: Saudi Arabia Versus Iran

Der Spiegel

A Saudi Arabia-led, largely Sunni coalition of nine countries seeks to push back Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen. Coalition jets have struck not only military targets but also a refugee camp.

Aside from Israel, no country views the new Iran pact with as much skepticism as Saudi Arabia. Like the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, the conflict in Yemen looks like a proxy war between Riyadh and Tehran.

The Sunni-Shiite struggle has the potential to destroy Yemen and turn into a disaster for Saudi Arabia. Ayatollah Khamenei is popular in Iran and seen as a leader who is negotiating with the West as an equal. His adversary on the Arabian Peninsula is the aging King Salman. The war poses great risks to the House of Saud.

Hard Truth

Roger Scruton

The integration of the Muslim community into our cities is a problem. Our political class transferred to teachers the whole obligation to integrate new immigrant communities.

Our society has gone terribly wrong. People have not been confronting the loss of the Christian faith, the inability to confront Islam, the loss of the sense of the sacredness of the sexual relation, and the exposure of young women both to external predation and to moral decay.

The battle to maintain a proper educational system was lost. The multiculturalists wanted to destroy the old education system as they saw it. At stake is the survival of western civilization.

2015 April 3


The White House

Key parameters of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran's nuclear program that were decided in Lausanne, Switzerland:

Iran has agreed to reduce by approximately two-thirds its installed centrifuges. Iran has agreed to reduce its current stockpile of about 10 Mg of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to 300 kg of 3.67% LEU for 15 years. All excess centrifuges and enrichment infrastructure will be placed in IAEA monitored storage. Iran's breakout timeline will be extended to at least one year, for a duration of at least 10 years.

Inspections and Transparency
The IAEA will have regular access to all of Iran's nuclear facilities. Inspectors will have access to the supply chain that supports Iran's nuclear program. Iran will implement measures to address IAEA concern regarding the Possible Military Dimensions (PMD) of its program.

Reactors and Reprocessing
Iran has agreed to redesign and rebuild a heavy water research reactor in Arak, based on a design agreed by the P5+1. Iran has committed indefinitely to not conduct reprocessing or reprocessing research and development on spent nuclear fuel.

US and EU nuclear-related sanctions will be suspended after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps. US sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missiles will remain in place.

For 10 years, Iran will limit domestic enrichment capacity and research and development, ensuring a breakout timeline of at least one year. Iran will remain a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

AR Well done, P5+1 (a.k.a. E3/EU+3).

The Anthropocene

Jedediah Purdy

The Holocene epoch lasted 12,000 years. Estimates put the global human population between 1 million and 10 million at the start of the Holocene.

Now we live in the Anthropocene era. The familiar contrast between people and the natural world no longer holds. The world we inhabit is increasingly the world we have made. We cannot avoid responsibility for the world we are making.

Anthropocene inequality has an affinity with neoliberalism, the global extension of market logic. Environmental economics uses the concept of the externality, a harm or benefit that has no price tag, and so is ignored in market decisions.

Ultimately, the question is the value of life. There is no correct technocratic answer. Either the Anthropocene will be democratic or it will be horrible. Your vulnerability to disaster often reflects your standing in a political and economic order.

Anthropocene ideas can prompt people to organize in new ways. The idea of human rights gained much of its force this way.

AR Think Globorg.

2015 April 2

Iran: A Deal!

CNN, 1910 GMT

Baltic Threat

The Times

Russian generals at a meeting in Germany discussed:

Crimea: Any attempt to return it to Ukraine would be met with force, including nuclear force.
East Ukraine: Any NATO supply of weapons to Kiev would prompt a forceful response.
The Baltic States: Conditions are like those in Ukraine, which pushed Russia to act.

NATO members Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are warning the West of Russian ambitions in their territories. NATO is reinforcing them.


Neil deGrasse Tyson

You base governance on things that are objectively true, regardless of your belief system. The issue is not that there are religious people in the world that have one view over another but that you want to legislate that in a way that affects everyone.

There are religions and belief systems, and objective truths. And if we're going to govern a country, we need to base that governance on objective truths, not your personal belief system.

2015 April 1

America Versus Iran


Iran is using talks to shield its hegemonic ambitions in the Mideast. Its Revolutionary Guard Corps and a host of proxies are filling the power gap left by the US departure from Iraq and the collapse of authoritarian governments.

Der Spiegel

The United States is currently rethinking the Mideast. Hopes of a nuclear deal with Iran leave relations with Israel at a new low. Fracking liberates America from Gulf oil, so when Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran fight for regional supremacy America may align with Iran.

President Obama sees Islamic State as the danger and Iran as the victor. The most powerful man in Iraq is Iranian general Qasem Soleimani — "Supermani" — who leads the al-Quds Brigades, a private army under the control of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Americans are impressed by his professionalism and see his elite troops as their boots on the ground.

A shift in US-Iranian relations is under way. The nuclear conflict between Tehran and the West is over a decade old. A breakthrough seems possible. The West wants the IAEA to be able to inspect all facilities at any time and without prior notification. But Iran blocks any measures that might limit its national sovereignty. The two sides face a stalemate.

Ayatollah Khamenei: "Just like the Americans, I am of the opinion that no deal is better than a bad deal."

AR Let's befriend Iran.

Poldark — unexpectedly good

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